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August 14, 2017 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Swimmer

The Swimmer, written and directed by Manuel Saez, and performed at Bats Theatre, immediately appealed to me because I’m a swimmer and I was just so excited to see a play that involved this very individualistic, lonely sport and was curious as to how it would be staged. When I read the synopsis I was even more excited: it is the story of two young professional swimmers, Anna (Meron McCardle) and Tabitha (Anastasia Dolinina), whose love is hindered by Anna’s overbearing former competitive swimmer mother (Kassie Mcluskie), also called Anna, who keeps pushing her daughter exponentially to be the best. Swimming is a highly competitive sport and also rather odd as everyone is half or virtually naked when competing, in skin tight and wet swimwear; sexual tension is virtually handed to a playwright on a plate.

First red flag: all female characters, a lesbian love, written and directed by a man. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. I was suspicious as to how a man can enter a female mind and a female sexuality. This is not to say that men can’t tell a lesbian love story or have female characters; it has been done before. But, as the play began, I started to question the background story. How long had these characters been seeing each other? How intimate were they? How old are they? Do they go to school or university? Does Tabitha also live at home with her parents? All these questions, plus a lack of any real touching moment between the two lovers, failed to make me believe in their love. Even a hot club dancing scene left me unsatisfied, with hands on bodies in only all the acceptable places. I’m not even confident that the two ever kissed on stage; the staging when they were dancing was in a way that I couldn’t see their faces or proximity.

Second red flag: I got very lost in the play, and not in the wanderlust kind of way. I’m not even sure there was a storyline. The two lovers wanted to get away from it all — pretty vague — and the mother obviously hindered them from doing so. There is something about an accident in the mother’s past that made her unable to swim again but I’m unsure where it occurs in their timeline. Does the mother have a dark secret? I’m not sure. Is the mother genuinely unstable? The play certainly hinted at her being so. And, without giving anything away, I really did not appreciate the ending.

Third red flag: the acting. All the actors are talented, however I’m not sure if they hit the right beats with their monologues and tone of voice. The only actor I could follow consistently was Mcluskie. McCardle’s Anna seemed perpetually angry, which made the tender moments with the mother rather odd. Her consistent harsh tone made me tune out very fast. Dolinina reached some very human moments, but they were too brief for me. Plus, it really frustrates me when actors are talking to the audience but NOT LOOKING AT ANYONE. Be brave and include the audience when talking to them! It makes everything far more interesting and engaging.

As visually interesting as the swimming moments within the show were, I really could have done without the actors creating a “swoosh” noise with each stroke. The visual image of the actors walking around the set was pleasing but they lacked purpose. But I think I’m most disappointed at the lack of swimming jargon. Swimming was not essential to the plot or themes and could have been replaced with literally any other sport.

Redeeming factors were that the show was fast-paced (one hour), and the set and lighting were incredible. Plastic lino floor treatment made a kind of “splash” sound as the actors walked, and the lighting was strong, sharp, and purposeful: I only wish the play was as well.

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